In a bid to push the government to declare the Pingpu as the nation’s 15th official Aboriginal tribe, about 50 residents of Greater Kaohsiung’s Liouguei District (六龜) early last month obtained copies of their family’s household registration records from the Japanese colonial period as a proof of their ethnic status.
“This is my great-grandfather, and this is my grandfather,” a resident said, pointing to a copy of a household registration documents.
Under each name was the character shou (熟), which implies that a person is a Pingpu Aborigine.
The residents were tracing their ancestral roots because they have not forgotten who they are, said Chang Yin-lai (張銀來), president of the Laonong Association for Substantial Development of Pingpu Culture.
Chen Chao-hung (陳昭宏), a supervisor at the Liouguei District Community Empowerment Station, who initiated the appeal, said he began to study Pingpu history when attending graduate school and he discovered that household registration documents from the Japanese colonial period have very detailed information — including the ethnicity of each person recorded.
He said Hakkas were marked with the character guang (廣), Hoklos with fu (福), Pingpu with shou, while other Aboriginal groups were marked with sheng (生).
The ethnic marking guang referred to Guandong Province, China, to which most Hakkas in Taiwan can trace their ancestral roots, fu referred to Fujian Province, China, while whether to classify an Aboriginal group as sheng or shou depended on how “civilized” the ethnic group was, according to the standards of the colonial authorities.
According to Chen’s research, though the government allowed the registration of ethnicity from 1956 to 1960, many Pingpu did not do so since the policy was not well known and there was a lot of discrimination against the Pingpu at that time. Failure to register their ethnicity led not only to the loss of rights attached to Aboriginal status, but also the decline of Pingpu culture.
Chang said that, though most of the residents were aware that they were Pingpu since childhood, they had applied for copies of the household registration documents as hard proof of their ethnicity, which they could pass on to their children.
Ou Ming-yi (歐明義), director of Liouguei District Household Registration Office, said that according to documents from the Japanese colonial period, as many as 3,800 of the district’s 14,136 residents are Pingpu, adding that the documents have been digitized and are available to the public.
Those who would like to see their family records may do so and each copy costs NT$15, Ou said.
The term Pingpu (平埔) is a Hoklo term that means “plains,” and it is used to refer to Aboriginal groups who inhabited the plains of western Taiwan, as opposed to those who lived in the mountains.
The Pingpu in Liouguei are Makatao and while some believe the Makatao were an independent tribe, others consider them a sub-tribe of the Siraya.